James Fallows writes:
Counting the new Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, the 41 Republicans in the Senate come from states representing just over 36.5 percent of the total US population. The 59 others (Democratic plus 2 Independent) represent just under 63.5 percent. (Taking 2009 state populations from here. If you count up the totals and split a state’s population when it has a spit delegation, you end up with about 112.3 million Republican, 194.7 million Democratic + Indep. Before Brown’s election, it was about 198 million Democratic + Ind, 109 million Republican.)
Let’s round the figures to 63/37 and apply them to the health care debate. Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails.
To add even more perspective, if you were to take the (admittedly odd) view that rather than 60% of Senators, you’d need Senators representing 60% of America voting in favor to pass a bill, then you could get there with the 51 most liberal Senators. And if you only needed Senators representing 51% of America, then you could get there with just the 37 most liberal Senators.
Now obviously, you make laws with the Constitution you have, and not the one you might want to have or wish to have. But in trying to make broad statements about the mood of the country, or what bills the people will tolerate, or things like that, it’s worth remembering the above. A majority of Americans voted for legislators to the House and the Senate who would pass with no hesitation a bill that’s far more progressive than the Senate offering.
The right response to the institutions we have is to ask what can be accomplished and how. But to read backward from that what-can-be-accomplished something about what “most Americans” want makes no sense at all.